February 2004
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Day February 8, 2004

Gen. Wesley Clark and where to go from here

Well, yesterday’s votes in Michigan and Washington pretty much confirmed what we already knew:  along with Dean and Edwards, Clark is pretty much done.  I find this sad, but mostly because I signed onto the Clark Draft pretty early, donated to his campaign several times, and worked on letter writing campaigns to NH and SC.  I respect the man, and think he would have made an excellent president.  Unlike many, I’m not afraid of putting a General in charge.  Those who are afraid that a military man in the White House would unleash further military escapades hasn’t been paying attention.  People who have been in a war tend to learn that war isn’t something to walk into lightly.  Clark, like many who served in Vietnam, appears to understand that sending our troops to die is something that should be done only when necessary, not merely in search of a foreign policy or for public relations.  Clark also appears to understand that leadership doesn’t simply mean doing what you want, and then figuring out how to cover your tracks. 

One or two primaries could be anomalous, but 11 primaries or caucuses are a 22% sample of states (though not population), so it’s increasingly unlikely that the pattern is going to shift.  And Clark needs to get out soon, or risk slipping from “serious but failed contender” to “irrelevant.”  The best strategy for Clark, in my opinion, is to recognize the handwriting, add his support to Kerry, and start working with the front-runner, with the goal of transitioning to a cabinet appointment if Kerry wins.  I have no idea whether Clark is interested in a cabinet post (he seems to be uninterested in the VP role, and isn’t the strongest choice anyway).  

But I think there are a number of positions which could benefit from Clark’s experience.  The most obvious are Secretary of State or Defense.  The problem with Defense, of course, is the tradition which demands nominal civilian control over the military.  Frankly, I think this an overrated objection, for a number of reasons.  First, civilian control of the military is accomplished by having the President serve as the CINC.  SecDef is second in command and part of the National Command Authority, and is subject to an amazing amount of overview, oversight, and guidance by the National Security Council, congressional oversight committees, and the President himself.  Second, numerous SecDef’s have served in the military – often in lower-level officer roles, but occasionally at command and staff levels.  Gen. George C. Marshall, for example, was Army Chief of Staff during WWII, authored the Normandy invasion plan, and coordinated all Allied operations in Europe and the Pacific.   Not to mention that whole “Marshall Plan” thing.   After a stint as SecState under Truman, he was named SecDef in 1953.  

The trend towards civilian Secretaries of Defense with no military service is recent, and in many ways reflects the fact that increasingly fewer people have served in the military since the advent of all-volunteer forces.  At the same time, I would argue that the recent record isn’t all that good.  Which would we rather have, a SecDef with a distinguished military record, or a SecDef who got rich selling the military all of their hardware and intends to continue using the military as a cash cow?  Sound like anybody we know?  And it’s not just Rumsfeld.  Dick Cheney.  Cap Weinberger.  Frank Carlucci. 

But it’s not going to happen, and there’s a better job for Clark anyway.

We would do better to consider Clark for Secretary of State.  There is a tradition of SecState appointees with distinguished military careers, including Colin Powell (say what you want, Powell is a committed internationalist and is deeply uncomfortable with a lot of what’s happened in the last three years.  His recent article in Foreign Affairs must have been written under duress.).  Clark would bring to the job strong experience working with NATO and many UN countries.  He’s respected by many who served with him in NATO, and will be well placed to help repair the damage that’s been done.  Clark would bring credibility to our international relations.  He is the right choice under a Democratic presidency for Secretary of State.